This post was written by Patricia Namakula, Head of Research and Public Relations at the Centre for Multilateral Affairs (CfMA), and Nsekanabo Sheila, Policy and Strategy Manager at CfMA. It was originally published by CfMA.
The report launched by the Web Foundation on Women’s Rights Online: closing the digital gender gap for a more equal world is a blessing in the digital equality debates. This report comes during unprecedented times when the world is still grappling with a global health crisis which has forced billions of people across the globe to move their lives online. The pandemic has shown us that access to the web is a lifeline, not a luxury. Therefore, this report is a great resource which, through evidence-based research, puts into context issues surrounding the gender digital divide, especially in the world’s least developed countries (LDCs). It provides a global picture of current digital gender inequalities and shows the barriers that women face in accessing and using the internet.
Across the globe, fewer women than men use the internet and research from the Web Foundation found that globally men are 21 per cent more likely to be online than women. This gap increases to 52 per cent in the world’s least developed countries and keeps widening. This reality is worrying because if no appropriate measures are taken to achieve gender digital equality, women and girls are likely to miss out on the economic and social opportunities that the internet offers. Evidence from the survey of four countries across three regions, including Uganda, found multiple barriers to internet access.
Affordability of data emerged as one of the biggest obstacles to women and girls getting and staying online. In Uganda, increased cost is a result of the social media tax — a regressive tax that requires all Ugandans, irrespective of their economic status, to pay UGX 200 daily to use social media. These “one shoe fits all” kinds of regulations are excluding many low-income earners, especially women, from getting online. This partly explains why the report findings show that Uganda still has the lowest level of internet access from all the four countries surveyed, with a substantial gender digital gap of 42 per cent. This calls for the government to focus its efforts on getting more women and girls online because closing the gender digital gap has positive socio-economic implications for achieving Vision 2040 and the third National Development Plan (NDP III). To solve this barrier, governments and companies are called upon to reduce taxes on low-cost devices and give subsidies for those less able to buy, especially women.
Lack of digital skills among women and girls is another hindering factor highlighted in the report, where 50 per cent of the women in rural areas interviewed attributed their being offline to failure to use the internet; while in the urban areas, 45 per cent of women said the same. It should be noted that women are excluded from ICTs right from the design level when ICTs are built with a bias towards male perspectives. To overcome this barrier, the Web Foundation urges governments and companies to collect and publish gender data in the technology sector and to invest in promoting digital skills and ICT education for women and girls.
The report also found that women create less online content as compared to their male counterparts. Women online are less likely to create certain types of content. For example, the statistics in the report show that men are 29 per cent more likely than women to comment on social, economic, and political issues and that they are 29 per cent more likely to sell or advertise a product or service online. To bridge this gap, governments and companies are called upon to support and empower more women and girls to participate in technology development, local content creation and ICT innovation.
The report further highlights issues on online privacy and data protection. Findings indicate that women are more concerned about their online privacy than men. This is because usually women and girls are targets of online gender-based violence and other forms of online abuse. Few countries have regulations in place to hold the perpetrators of these online crimes accountable. In Uganda, the law castigates the victims of online abuse by placing the burden on them to prove their innocence. For example, when a woman’s non-consensual intimate images are released online without her consent, the law does not protect them, and this gap in the regulations has allowed it to continue. Governments and technology companies should work together to safeguard the online privacy of women and girls. And as more women and girls get online, it is important that they find an internet that is a safe, empowering space where their rights are respected.
Although the research finds promising results on basic internet access, it still falls short of the meaningful connectivity targets recommended by the Alliance for Affordable Internet in unlocking the full power of the internet. Until we get everyone connected and enjoy the full benefits that it offers, the internet as a magnifier for equality will remain a myth. Closing the gender digital gap requires that governments and technology companies understand the ways that women and girls are prevented from fully accessing and using digital technologies. This research is an excellent source of relevant information for ICT policymakers, digital rights advocacy groups, and the private sector as they work together in closing the digital gender gap and creating a more equal world.